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Freedom is My Birthright

tilak (1)

Bal Gangadhar Tilak was sentenced to six years imprisonment for seditious writing in 1908 and was sent to Mandalay jail in Burma from where he was released in 1914. On his return from Mandalay he found that the Swadeshi and Boycott Movements had almost died down due to the dominance of the Moderates on the political scene in India which had become dull and lacklustre.

To revive the Nationalist Movement, Annie Besant and Tilak founded the Home Rule Leagues—Annie Besant in 1915 and Tilak in 1916. The two Leagues cooperated in their activities as their aims were the same—home rule. Both felt that the Congress had become unwieldy and it was not easy to get a scheme of self-government approved in that body. Both Besant and Tilak undertook lecture tours in the country explaining to the masses in simple language the meaning of home rule or swaraj. Within a year, Tilak’s Home Rule League had over fourteen hundred paid members. The Home Rule Movement reawakened the nationalist spirit of Indian politics generated earlier by the Swadeshi Movement. Nationalism was rekindled. Tilak became the hero of the hour, and drew immense crowds wherever he went.

The speech reproduced below was given by Tilak at Nasik in 1917, at the first anniversary of the forming of the Home Rule League.

I am young in spirit though old in body. I do not wish to lose this privilege of youth. Whatever I am going to speak today is eternally young. The body might grow old, decrepit and it might perish, but the soul is immortal. Similarly, if there might be an apparent lull in our home rule activities, the freedom of the spirit behind it is eternal and indestructible, and it will secure liberty for us. Freedom is my birth right. So long as it is awake within me, I am not old. No weapon can cut this spirit, no fire can burn it, no water can wet it, no wind can dry it. We ask for home rule and we must get it. The science which ends in home rule is the science of politics and not the one which ends in slavery. The science of politics is the ‘veda’ of the country. You have a soul and I only want to awaken it. I want to tear off the blind that has been let down by ignorant, conniving and selfish people. The science of politics consists of two parts. The first is divine and the second is demonic. The slavery of a nation constitutes the latter. There cannot be a moral justification for the demonic part of the science of politics. A nation which might justify this, is guilty of sin in the sight of God. Some people do and some do not have the courage to declare what is harmful for them. Political and religious teaching consists in giving the knowledge of this principle.

Religious and political teachings are not separate, though they appear to be so on account of foreign rule. All philosophies are included in the science of politics.

Who does not know the meaning of home rule? Who does not want it? Would you like it if I enter your house and take possession of your kitchen? I must have the right to manage the affairs in my own house. We are told we are not fit for home rule. A century has passed and the British Rule has not made us fit for home rule; now we will make our own efforts and make ourselves fit for it. To offer irrelevant excuses, to hold out any temptations and to make other offers will be putting a stigma on English policy. England is trying to protect the small state of Belgium with India’s help; how can it then say that we should not have home rule? Those who find fault with us are avaricious people. But there are people who find fault even with the all-merciful God. We must work hard to save the soul of our nation without caring for anything. The good of our country consists in guarding this birth right. The Congress has passed this home rule resolution.

In practical politics some futile objections are raised to oppose our desire for swaraj. Illiteracy of the bulk of our people is one of such objections; but to my mind it ought not to be allowed to stand in our way. It would be sufficient for us even if the illiterate in our country have only a vague conception of swaraj, just as it all goes well with them if they simply have a hazy idea about God. Those who can efficiently manage their own affairs may be illiterate; but they are not idiots. They are as intelligent as any other educated man and if they could understand their immediate concerns they would not find any difficulty in grasping the principle of swaraj. If illiteracy is not a disqualification in civil law there is no reason why it should not be so in nature’s law also. Even the illiterate are our brethren: they have the same rights and are actuated by the same aspirations. It is, therefore, our bounden duty to awaken the masses. Circumstances have changed, and are favourable. The voice has gone forth ‘Now or Never’. Rectitude and constitutional agitation is alone what is expected of you. Turn not back, and confidently leave the ultimate issue to the benevolence of the Almighty.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak

(Ravindra Kumar, ed. Selected Documents of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Vol.3. New Delhi, Anmol Publications. p.61-6.)